April 2nd, 2018

Dear Airbnb Experience Team,

My name is Melis Sönmez. I’m a native of Turkey, where I was raised by adventurous parents who inspired in me a fascination with traveling to new places and experiencing different cultures.

It was this spirit that spurred me to leave Turkey after graduating high school, my heart set on studying product design in Cyprus. Over the next few years I briefly lived in the United Kingdom, attained my master’s degree in Italy and did an internship in Spain. Finally, in 2014 I booked a one-way flight to Chicago in hopes of starting a new life in yet another new place.

Living in multiple countries, traveling frequently, and working/interacting with people from different cultures has shaped my worldview, as well as my approach to working. Through my past experiences and design-centric mindset, I have internalized three key insights that make me the ideal candidate for the Experience Researcher position at Airbnb:

1. Cultures vary, but our needs are similar.

Learning about different cultures and customs has been one of my favorite parts of design research. Over the past few years, I’ve learned that culture varies, but, regardless of where we are in the world, our needs are similar. Few things are more gratifying or fulfilling than uncovering these universal needs and leveraging my design background to solve real problems.

Airbnb has a strong mission to create a world where “anyone can belong anywhere” and I would be proud to support this mission through design research.

Relevant Work: It’s well known that getting a U.S. work visa is far from easy. You often don’t know when you will obtain your visa and there are a lot of uncertainties you have to deal with along the way. As I adjusted to my new life in Chicago, waiting for my paperwork to be cleared, I began immersing myself in a new city, meeting other immigrants from all over the world who were sharing the same frustrations. I started to take a closer look at their lives, and at the things they struggled with the most. Shortly after I got my visa, I created a web magazine called Bright Side, with an aim of empowering and encouraging immigrants who have moved to the U.S. in pursuit of their dreams, overcoming any and all obstacles in order to enrich our society.


2. Good research doesn’t end with data. It should fuel a solution that people need.

As design researchers, we have special access to people’s lives, which brings great responsibility. After we gather the data, it’s important to synthesize it to identify insights that are actionable and help create new ways to add value to people’s lives.

Today, Airbnb is not just being used to find a place to stay -- but also to pair travelers with hosts who want to try new “Experiences”. I would be very excited to help Airbnb expand its products that are user-centric while staying focused on strengthening Airbnb's core values.

Relevant Work: As I’ve worked on Bright Side, I’ve been continuously inspired by the struggles (both big and small) that immigrants to the U.S. must overcome. So, I began collecting data about these struggles through in-person interviews, surveys and desk research. Together with a talented illustrator, I created a campaign named “From Immigrants” that aims to spread awareness of the struggles immigrants face in an eye-catching way. By sharing these stories, I hope to touch people who have a negative perception about immigrants and help reframe the conversation about immigration.


3. Always challenge your assumptions.

As a design researcher, I often use customer journey mapping to gain a comprehensive view of a person’s experience with a brand or service. One of the most important steps in this process is thinking through the worst experience possible in order to flesh out the missing pieces.

After a Pixar animator created storyboards for Airbnb, it became clear that most of the Airbnb experience happens offline. This underscores the rich opportunity to study how people interact with Airbnb both online and offline through a journey map; I would love the opportunity to work with the team to uncover insights that fuel better user experiences and innovation opportunities.

Relevant Work: Working on a previous project project where we were asked to design mobile health insurance for one of the world’s largest insurance company, AXA. In order to put together a consumer journey map, we avoided tailored answers and talked to extremes instead. In other words, we interviewed cancer patients, moms with the risky childbirths experiences, and people who had sudden accidents and had to go through delicate surgeries. By understanding people who live in the tails of the bell curve, we better understood their needs and helped AXA to create optimized experiences.


Visit: AXA Healthkeeper 


Design Research was not just my major -- it is my passion. Design research fuels my ability to develop meaningful product and experience recommendations, and I look forward to the opportunity to bring this passion to Airbnb.

Best regards.